Did you ever hear that quote “winners never quit and quitters never win?” It’s an old Vince Lombardi quote.
Well, I’ve lived my life by that adage.
I think I was born with an innate drive to finish everything I start. From as far back as I can remember, I have had this genuine need to follow through with precisely what I wanted to accomplish. When I was just barely two, and was told repeatedly that I shouldn’t run in the street, I decided I wanted to anyway. My mother had to chase me down and bring me back inside. Multiple times (sorry, Mom!). As a young child, I stayed up way past my bedtime finishing novels and pretending to be asleep when my parents came upstairs to go to bed. In fact, I only ever stopped one novel midway through (Rolling Thunder Hear my Cry). I have vivid memories of agonizing over the decision, even going so far as to ask my mother if I was “allowed” to not finish. The guilt I felt is still a very visceral memory for me today.
The trend continued well into high school and college. I never skipped a class. Ever. I read every book. I completed every assignment.
I suppose now would be the appropriate time to note that it wasn’t enough for me to simply complete a task. Oh no. The end result had to be perfection. I had to be the best. So I overcommitted myself constantly. It wasn’t enough for me to be in a club in high school, so I became the president of three. I cried when I got a 77 on a math test in fifth grade. I pushed through an impossibly difficult Environmental Science course my junior year even though almost everyone dropped it. No giving up here—I had to complete it.
So let’s revisit that quote again, shall we? “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” Super useful for some people. VERY useful for football, which is what Lombardi intended it for. But for me, I came to equate quitting with not trying hard enough. To failing. And I don’t fail. I can’t. I’m terrified of it. It’s something so deeply rooted in my psyche that my therapist and I have been working on for approximately six years and I’m only now beginning to make headway on it.
My fear of quitting, of failure, has both propelled me forward and simultaneously held me back in monumental ways for years. It is partially responsible for staying in my eating disorder for as long as I did. Honestly, it’s now keeping me from recovering as quickly in this most recent relapse. And until recently, it kept me in New York City in an acting career that made me cry more than smile.
When I was nineteen, acting seemed like the perfect career choice. It was draining, it was challenging, and I was, most importantly, good at it. I loved the intricacies of the language, the technicalities, and the science behind what makes a larynx perform at its best. I reveled in every minute of it. It was exhilarating. It was beautiful. It was what I loved to do more than anything in the world in the best city in the world. That is, until it wasn’t.
The grind became too much, too exhausting. The city was too loud and too busy, and the idea of going into midtown to audition made me cringe. I didn’t want to get up for the early morning auditions, and I started getting performance anxiety at every audition. I was so afraid to fail to the point that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I was afraid to suck, so I did. And I sucked hard. I was self-sabotaging and I couldn’t stop.
I was miserable, but I was so afraid to quit because I was afraid to have failed. I was afraid of what others would think of me, “giving up on my dream.” For my whole life I have equated my identity with being driven and successful. I was so proud of that. If I were to quit this, what would happen to that person? Who would I become?
It got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I agonized over the decision for months, building and rebuilding mental pros and cons lists. Anxiety turned my insides into a bundle of interwoven knots. But, finally, I did it.
I quit acting, and then I made the decision to quit New York.
And the sky didn’t tumble down around me. My life didn’t fall apart. I was still the same person I was before.
Well, not entirely. See, I was happy. I felt like a giant weight had lifted off my shoulders.
I had never been able to accept before that quitting isn’t inherently evil, even though it is often villainized in our success-driven society. Sometimes, quitting is freedom. It’s self-care. Sometimes, it is simply letting go to allow more space for yourself. Quitting allowed me the freedom to start to heal. To begin to grow.
I’m still wrestling with this complete 180 in my thought processes. After all, it isn’t exactly easy to turn a personal philosophy completely on its head. I still get anxiety when it comes to stopping a run mid-stride, or deciding to move on from a job or task. I still overcommit big-time. But I’m learning. Day by day, minute by minute, I’m graciously becoming softer toward myself.
Because wow is it incredible to be able to finally breathe.
Kristy Cloetingh is a Philadelphia native who is currently trying to figure out her place in the world. Her passions include reading, singing, dancing, nature, yoga, chicken fingers, and puppies. An anorexia survivor and mental health warrior, Kristy has made it her life’s mission to remind every single person that their bodies and minds are worthy of unconditional love and respect, regardless of size, shape, or whatever “normal” is.